Decide

Focus the effort around a design hypothesis.

Affinity diagramming

What

A way of finding themes in collections of ideas, quotes, or observations.

Why

To draw out insights from qualitative data quickly and collaboratively.

Time required

1 hour

How to do it

  1. Record ideas, quotes, or observations from interviews, contextual inquiry, or other sources of research on sticky notes.
  2. Place the sticky notes on a white board (in no particular arrangement). Move the sticky notes into related groups.
  3. Use larger notes (or white board markers, if you're using a white board), to write titles or catch phrases for each group.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. This method may use data gathered from members of the public, but does not require their involvement.

18F

Comparative analysis

What

A detailed review of existing experiences provided either by direct competitors or by related agencies or services.

Why

To identify competitors’ solutions that excel, are lacking, or are missing critical design elements. Comparative analysis can give you a competitive edge by identifying opportunities, gaps in other services, and potential design patterns to adopt or avoid.

Time required

1–2 hours to analyze and write an evaluation about each competitor.

How to do it

  1. Identify a list of services that would be either direct or related competitors to your service. Pare the list down to four or five.
  2. Establish which criteria or heuristics you will use to evaluate each competing service.
  3. Break down the analysis of each selected competitor into specific focal areas for evaluation. For example, how relevant are search results?
  4. Use a spreadsheet to capture the evaluation and determine how the targeted services and agencies perform based on the identified heuristics.
  5. Present the analysis, which should showcase areas of opportunities that you can take advantage of and design patterns you might adopt or avoid.

Examples from 18F

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Content audit

What

A listing and analysis of all the content on an existing website (including pages, files, videos, audio or other data) that your users might reasonably encounter.

Why

To identify content that needs to be revised in new versions of a website. Content audits can also help you identify who is responsible for content, how often it should be updated, and what role a particular piece of content plays for users.

Time required

3-8 hours

How to do it

  1. Identify a specific user need or user question that you’d like to address.
  2. Create an inventory of content on your website. Navigate through the site from the home page and note the following about every piece of content. (For repeated items like blog posts, consider capturing just a sample.)
    • Title used in the site’s navigation for that page
    • Title displayed on the page or item itself
    • URL
    • Parent page
  3. Identify the main entry points for the user need you’re addressing. This could be external marketing, the homepage, a microsite, or another page.
  4. From each entry point, trace the pages and tasks a user moves through until they address their need.
  5. For every piece of content they might come across on that task flow, note:
    • Author(s): who wrote or created the page
    • Content owner(s): who ensures its credibility
    • Updated date
    • Update frequency
    • Comments: qualitative assessment of what to change to better address your identified user need

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Design principles

What

Written statements, generally in the form of imperatives like “Earn people’s trust,” that serve as guiding lights during decision-making.

Why

To give the team and the stakeholders a shared point of reference when negotiating next steps. Good design principles are specific to the project, not general truths, and should help teams say “no” to otherwise interesting proposals or generate ideas when they’re stuck.

Time required

1 week, plus occasional refresher meetings

How to do it

  1. Using internal documents and kickoff activities, gather terms or concepts that seem significant to project goals and organizational culture.
  2. Using existing research, list terms or concepts that seem particularly important to customers or user groups.
  3. Cluster similar terms and concepts together on a whiteboard or other writing space open to everyone in the project. Name the clusters.
  4. Ask the team and stakeholders if they would like to add, change, or edit any concepts or groups.
  5. From the groups on the board, create three to five final principles. Using evidence from partner or user research, write one to two sentences in support of each principle.
  6. Share the principles in a place accessible to the team throughout the project, and refer to them often while making decisions.

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. Generally, no information is collected from members of the public. Even when stakeholders are members of the public, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation (e.g., not a survey), 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

18F

Journey mapping

What

A visualization of the major interactions shaping a user's experience of a product or service.

Why

To provide design teams with a bird’s-eye view of a service that helps them see the sequence of interactions that make up a user’s experience including the complexity, successes, pain points, and emotions users experience along the way.

Time required

4–12 hours

How to do it

  1. Document the elements of the project's design context. This includes:
    • People involved and their related goals
    • Their behaviors in pursuit of their goals
    • Information, devices, and services that support their behaviors
    • Important moments in how they experience a service or major decisions they make
    • The emotions associated with these moments or decisions
  2. Visualize the order in which people exhibit behaviors, use information, make decisions, and feel emotions. Group elements into a table of "phases" related to the personal narrative of each persona. Identify where personas share contextual components.
  3. Discuss the map with stakeholders. Point out insights it offers. Use these insights to establish design principles. Think about how to collapse or accelerate a customer's journey through the various phases. Incorporate this information into the project's scope.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. The PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.

18F

Mental modeling

What

A simple reference model that correlates existing and potential interfaces with user behaviors.

Why

To help designers anticipate how design decisions might facilitate future behaviors.

Time required

1–2 hours

How to do it

  1. Create one three-columned table per persona. Label the columns “Past,” “Present Behavior,” and “Future.”
  2. In the middle column (Present Behavior), list current user behaviors and pain points broadly related to the project, one per row.
  3. In the left-hand column (Past), list the products, services, features, and/or interfaces that the user encounters as they go about what’s listed in the Present Behavior column.
  4. In the right-hand column (Future), list possible products, services, features, and/or interface elements that in the future might change behaviors and pain points in the Present Behavior column.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Personas

What

User archetypes based on conversations with real people.

Why

To ground design in reality by forcing us to consider the goals, behaviors, and pain points of the people affected by our design decisions. Unlike marketing personas based on demographics or marketability, design personas describe how someone accomplishes goals.

Time required

2–3 hours

How to do it

  1. Gather research from earlier activities like contextual inquiry or stakeholder interviews in a way that’s easy to review. You can create placeholder personas without research to teach user-centered thinking, but because they’re effectively stereotypes, avoid using them for implementable design decisions.
  2. Create a set of user archetypes based on how you believe people will use your solution. These typically get titles (for example, “data administrators” rather than “those who submit data”).
  3. Analyze your records for patterns as they relate to user archetypes. Specifically note frequently observed goals, motivations, behaviors, and pain points.
  4. Pair recurring goals, behaviors, and pain points with archetypes. Give each archetype a name and a fictional account of their day. Add a photo of someone who fits the description, but ideally not an image of someone you’ve actually interviewed and who may be recognized.
  5. Link your personas to the research that inspired them. This is useful when researchers are interested in challenging the way a persona stereotypes a user.

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Site mapping

What

A comprehensive rendering of how a website’s pages relate to one another.

Why

To audit an existing website by assessing its structure and content. Site maps also help you plan and organize the contents of a new website prior to wireframing and building it.

Time required

2–3 hours

How to do it

  1. List each page of a website or section.
  2. Take a screenshot of each page. Create a thumbnail for each screenshot.
  3. Print the thumbnails on individual pages if completing this exercise in person. Remote teams can use a shared whiteboard tool. Arrange the page thumbnails into a hierarchical diagram. Focus on the logical relationships between pages. If you're evaluating an existing website, focus more on these relationships than on the URL structure. If some pages function as sub-pages to another, the site map should reflect that.
  4. Use the diagram to guide choices about things like information architecture and URL structures.

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Storyboarding

What

A visual sequence of a specific use case or scenario, coupled with a narrative.

Why

To visualize interactions and relationships that might exist between a user and a solution in the context of the user’s full experience.

Time required

1–2 days depending on the complexity of the scenario(s)

How to do it

  1. Gather any documents that describe the different use cases or scenarios in which users will interact with your service.
  2. Sketch scenes that visually depict a user interacting with the service, including as much context as possible. For example: Are they on the move? Where are they? What else is in their environment?
  3. Annotate each scene with a description of what the user is attempting to do. Describe what general feeling or experience the team wants the user to have.
  4. Review this storyboard with the product team and stakeholders for feedback. Iterate until the storyboard represents a shared vision of the scenario and progression of scenes.
  5. Create a polished version of the storyboard if you plan to use it for future work or in other external contexts.

Additional resources:

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Style tiles

What

A design document that contains various fonts, colors, and UI elements that communicate the visual brand direction for a website or application.

Why

To establish a common visual language between the design team and stakeholders. It also acts as a collaboration artifact that both the design team and stakeholders can use to contribute to the final design direction.

Time required

1–2 days depending on how many rounds of feedback the team offers

How to do it

  1. Gather all the feedback and information that was provided during the initial kickoff of the project.
  2. Distill the information into different directions a solution could take. Label these directions based on what kinds of interactions and brand identity they represent.
  3. Create the appropriate number of style tiles based on the defined directions, which establish the specific visual language for the different directions.
  4. Gather stakeholder feedback. Iterate on the style tiles, eventually getting down to a single style tile which will be the established visual language for the project going forward.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

Task flow analysis

What

A step-by-step analysis of how a user will interact with a system in order to reach a goal. This analysis is documented in a diagram that traces a user's possible paths through sequences of tasks and decision points in pursuit of their goal. The tasks and decision points should represent steps taken by the user, as well as steps taken by the system.

Why

To validate a design team's understanding of users' goals, common scenarios, and tasks, and to illustrate in a solution-agnostic way the overall flow of tasks through which a user progresses to accomplish a goal. Task flow diagrams also help surface obstacles in the way of users achieving their goal.

Time required

2-3 hours per user goal

How to do it

  1. Based on user research, identify target users' goals that need to be analyzed.
  2. For each goal, identify common scenarios and the tasks and decisions that the user or system will perform in each scenario. Don't assume you and your stakeholders share the same understanding of the tasks. The idea is to make the flow of tasks explicit in the diagram, so that you can check your understanding by walking through the diagram with users (steps 4 & 5).
  3. Produce a diagram that includes each task and decision point that a user might encounter on their way toward their goal. While there are several diagrammatic languages that can be used to produce task flow diagrams, the basic look is a flow chart of boxes for tasks and decision points and arrows showing directionality and dependencies among tasks. The diagram should cover the common scenarios identified in step 2.
  4. Present the diagram to a subject matter expert who knows the task(s) well enough to check for accuracy.
  5. In collaboration with users and/or subject matter exprts, annotate the task flow diagram to pinpoint areas of interest, risk, or potential frustration.

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F

User scenarios

What

A method for telling a conceptual story about a user's interaction with your website, focusing on the what, how, and why.

Why

To communicate a design idea by telling a story about a specific interaction that a system supports. Through creating user scenarios, you'll identify what the user's motivations are for coming to your site as well as their expectations and goals. User scenarios also help the team answer questions about what the product should do as well as how it should look and behave.

Time required

1-3 hours

How to do it

  1. Determine a persona or user group to focus on.
  2. Begin to list out the user’s goals, motivations, and the context/environment in which they interact with your site.
  3. Put the details you came up with in step 2 into a story format that includes information about who they are (persona or user group), why they are using your site (motivations), where they are (context), what they need to do (their goal), and how they go about accomplishing their goal (tasks). Keep in mind, the more realistic details you add, the richer and more useful your story becomes for helping in understanding your user’s behaviors.
  4. Share the user scenarios you’ve written with the larger team for feedback and refinement.

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

Applied in government research

No PRA implications. No information is collected from members of the public.

18F